In zone of his own, Angelos leaves Robinson on hold

October 15, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Losing Doug Melvin was acceptable under only one condition -- if Frank Robinson became general manager.

But now Robinson, like Melvin and Johnny Oates before him, is trapped in the Angelos Zone, a place few escape, a place of inexplicable limbo.

What's the frequency, Peter?

What's the plan?

Granted, the Orioles' owner couldn't win when it came to naming replacement for Roland Hemond. Former club president Larry Lucchino never decided between Melvin and Robinson -- it was too difficult, too painful, too explosive.

Picking Melvin meant snubbing Robinson, the game's first black manager, a Hall of Fame player and one of the most pivotal figures in Orioles history -- not to mention a shrewd talent evaluator with the aggressive streak you'd want in a GM.

But picking Robinson meant snubbing Melvin.

The Texas Rangers saw in Melvin what Angelos didn't -- his behind-the-scenes diligence, his quiet confidence, his encyclopedic knowledge. Melvin fired his manager and farm director two days after becoming Texas GM. Maybe now Angelos will respect him, but probably not.

How long before he runs this organization into the ground?

It was either Melvin or Robinson, not neither.

Of course, this isn't much of an issue to Angelos, who views himself as Abner Doubleday, and anyone else as the village idiot.

He'll act as his own GM, thank you very much.

Melvin wasn't good enough. Robinson's not good enough. No one's good enough -- except maybe Angelos' son, John, who made no secret of his contempt for Melvin.

Could it be that Angelos thinks Hemond deserves to remain GM another year?

If so, he should recall his fury the day Hemond lost Ron Gant to the Cincinnati Reds -- a blunder that seems even more significant now that Jeffrey Hammonds might not be ready Opening Day.

Oh, Angelos still might elevate Robinson to GM and Hemond to executive vice president, but for some reason, the loss of Melvin delayed the process rather than accelerated it.

The owner faces more pressing issues -- hiring a manager, settling the baseball strike, stealing an NFL team. Still, this requires no effort. A snap of the fingers, and the deed is done.

So, what gives?

Maybe Hemond is balking at his "promotion" to a less meaningful position -- he stood up to Angelos once before, when he threatened to quit last winter.

Maybe Angelos is satisfied with the clear line of command in the post-Melvin era. Or maybe he wants Robinson to wait until Hemond's contract expires in 1995.

By then, Robinson will be 60. What else would he have proved? And would he even stand for such a delay, knowing Angelos changes his mind every three minutes?

Robinson is keeping a low profile -- for now. But he showed enough political smarts to win his power struggle with Melvin. He could always threaten to quit, forcing Angelos' hand.

A fine public-relations mess, that would be. Robinson's legions of fans would be offended. So would the African-American community, which would demand answers.

That scenario also might have come to pass if Angelos named Melvin GM, which was the original plan. Angelos could have argued that Melvin, 42, was better -- but he never believed that, either.

The Rangers granted Melvin virtually complete authority over baseball matters. Angelos started losing respect for Melvin last winter, when Hemond and Robinson were away on vacation.

Melvin wanted to offer Gregg Olson a contract; Angelos didn't.

Melvin wanted to make the Bobby Bonilla trade; Angelos didn't.

Angelos was proved right on Olson, but it was a highly debatable move, and Melvin felt a sense of loyalty to the club's all-time save leader.

This made him dumb?

In spring training, Angelos sat across the aisle from Melvin at the one game he attended, and never said a word.

Things only got worse. Melvin's supporters say Angelos viewed him as too sympathetic to Oates. And John Angelos grew livid over two articles in which Melvin was credited for his role in signing Lee Smith.

"That's ridiculous," John told the Washington Times. "That's just Monday morning quarterbacking. At least keep quiet about it. Don't go taking credit for something you didn't do."

Robinson reportedly is closer with Angelos' son, but what good is it doing him? Angelos deals mostly with Hemond.

He apparently has little contact with Robinson.

No one deserves this -- especially not Frank Robinson.

He delayed his quest to become GM in 1988 by replacing Cal Ripken Sr. as manager as a favor to then-owner Edward Bennett Williams.

Then, after getting fired as manager, he became an assistant GM, only to find himself occasionally frozen out by Hemond and Melvin.

Now, he's in the Angelos Zone, awaiting his fate.

What's the frequency, Peter?

What's the plan?

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